With the surge of unauthorized immigration this year, the impulse to protect American borders seems more critical than ever for many citizens. In response to the influx, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has created immigration detention centers as temporary housing for undocumented immigrants before deportation. More are on the way. Within these detention centers, however, are serious risks for the detainees. Recently, women at one facility in southern Texas have allegedy experienced sexual abuse, bringing into question the safety of these shelters. Lawmakers should consider assigning female guards to these women and children in detention facilities to decrease such incidents.
According to CNN, women of Karnes Country Residential Center spoke out about sexual abuse by employees, claiming that they had been pulled from their cells at night for sexual favors and were fondled in front of children. In fact, guards offering immigration help, money and false promises for sex, has become a grave issue. In an almost unbelievable response to these allegations, Geo Group, Inc., which owns the center, denied all of these complaints stating, “The Karnes County Residential Center provides a safe, clean, and family-friendly environment for mothers and children awaiting required processing by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. The center provides high quality care, and our company strongly denies any allegations to the contrary.”
If anything, this denial of allegations heightens concerns rather than dismisses them. As Barbara Hines, co-director of the University of Texas Immigration Clinic said, “The government has no business detaining vulnerable mothers and children that it cannot protect from this type of abuse.”
Still, there’s no question that to manage the overwhelming number of illegal immigrants, there needs to be temporary shelter provided. Placing female guards and employees for these facilities could be a working solution. Bryan Robinson of ABC News said that according to the Justice Department, “Sex offenses are still very much a man’s crime.” In fact, in 1999, men were responsible for 96 percent of sexual assaults. With this in mind, more female guards in women and children centers should have an effect on the rate of sexual abuse in these centers, even though women can perpetrate sexual assaults in some cases as well. Beyond that, having female workers in such facilities will create a safer, more comfortable environment for female detainees, allowing them to feel more protected by these workers.
It is important to remember that even though women and children within these immigration centers lack legal status, they’re humans deserving of the same treatment as American citizens. Treating immigrants with respect for their human rights seems like a simple no-brainer, but it’s allegations like the ones against Karnes County Residential Center that remind us that sometimes, common sense is surprisingly lacking. Terms tossed around, such as “illegal alien,” make it easy to dehumanize our approach to sexual assault allegations coming from detention centers — and we need to fight that. The “us versus them” mentality sets a trap that becomes a danger not only for women and children detainees, but also for us as a people. After all, in the words of the American Civil Liberties Union, “When the government has the power to deny legal rights and due process to one vulnerable group, everyone’s rights are at risk.”
Chelsea Hernandez is a senior majoring in English (creative writing). Her column, “Foot in Mouth,” runs Wednesdays.